Wanted: Players We Don’t Need

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Michael Schwartz of Valley of the Suns is a bit nonplussed over the signing of D-League stud Courtney Sims. Basically, he wonders why the Suns would sign a player for whom they don’t have minutes and whose position is already capably filled by other bodies. Good question.

Back before the Spurs signed Austin Croshere to a 10 Day contract, I had hope that they’d give Sims a 10-Day look. Much like Schwartz, I knew that such a signing wouldn’t help this year’s team. But, you know, I didn’t care. The Spurs have a luxury in the Austin Toros. They can develop young players–giving them ample practice time and heavy game minutes within their system without figuring out which able bodied vet to sit so the young guy can get a little burn.

We’ve written about this in recent weeks; you can find those posts here and here. With the Valley of the Suns post as our backdrop, let’s briefly consider the example of Malik Hairston. Hairston is a 2-3 swing that wouldn’t get off the bench in San Antonio. The Spurs have Mason, Ginobili, Finley, Bowen, and Udoka to play in front of him. In some small ball sets they’ve even ran backcourts of Hill-Parker-Ginobili. There are no minutes for Hairston, short of Popovich unexpectedly benching one of his much-loved vets. He’s a player the Spurs don’t need.

But in a sense, the Toros allow the Spurs to be interested in developing players they don’t need–at least not immediately. Ime Udoka is playing on an expiring contract. Bruce Bowen and Michael Finley are not far from retirement. If Hairston continues to develop, there is no reason to think San Antonio will not promote him into Ime Udoka’s vacated roster spot next season. With a year already in the system, Hairston should step into that role with greater ease than a typical first year (on an NBA court) player.

The Austin Toros are, in a sense, an experiment in player development. If players like Malik Hairston become valuable contributors to the Spurs, I suspect we’ll see several more NBA teams purchase a D-League affiliate.